The Importance of Personalized Learning – Part 1 of 3 – K12

October 24, 2012 jkatzman

Over the next weeks, I will be writing about personalized learning and how that applies to different learning populations. At first I’ll address K12 learning, then I’ll address how personalization affects a high-skill knowledge workforce, and a service workforce.

Is K12 ready for Personalized Learning?

After 50 years of stagnation, the crisis in education and urgency to fix it has propelled the education sector into leaps of innovation.  Personalization, and the technologies that support it, are innovations that threaten to upend the entrenched interests in learning content and technology.  What does it take to reinvent our learning systems to give our kids the education they need to compete in the 2020 market?

 Personalization meets each student where they are – whether at the center of the bell curve, or at the margins – with a learning program that is continually adapted to their unfolding needs and preferences.  Each learner is guided to mastery of a subject in his or her own way with a different blend of content, activities, and tools.

Personalization isn’t a new concept; good teachers have been doing this all along.

Personalization has gained a lot of traction in the past few years driven by educational reform efforts such as the federal Race To the Top (RTT) competition, which has made personalization “Absolute Priority 1.” To date, $3.5B of $4B has been awarded.

Most applicants are addressing the RTT personalization requirement with technology that uses data analytics to identify learning needs, and tools to manage a student’s personal learning plan.

Pioneering educators are creating personalized learning experiences by experimenting with blended learning approaches that mix up live classroom interaction with self-paced and virtual classroom activities.

The “flipped-classroom” is an example of this.  Lectures are delivered as a video and done as homework at night, and class-time is reserved to project and small group work. When the lectures are done as homework, students’ watch when they want, and at their own pace. They can stop, replay sections, and discuss it with their peers in online forums and chats. At the end, they are given comprehension questions that measure what they understood. This ensures that every student is engaged in the lecture, and the results of post-lecture comprehension questions provide the instructor with an understanding the effectiveness of the lecture for each student. Armed with this knowledge, the teacher then devotes class time to coaching and providing personalized attention.

Traditional Publishers, eLearning Companies and LMS Systems are Locked into Antiquated Approaches and Technologies 

The question is:  are the content providers ready to support personalization? Are traditional learning platforms able to support these new, highly flexible requirements?

Let’s start with content. To support personalization, teachers must be able to dynamically adjust a student’s assignments based on changing needs and learning styles. For this to work, there must be a diversity of modular content that can be matched to the unique, discrete needs of a learner. The content must be created in small chunks to be combined with other materials as needed, and be richly tagged with metadata that correlates it to educational objectives so that it can be easily accessed by its intended learning audience. A recent study found that personalizing algebra and contextualizing the problems to the areas the interests of the student had a big impact on engagement and comprehension of the subject matter. For example, simply re-framing algebra questions to use sports references engaged kids that liked sports more than the generic versions of the problems.

 Until this point, publishers have followed a one-size-fits-all approach. In K12, the business model of pursuing exclusive district adoptions meant that the content was designed broadly to serve the average learners. Those at the margins of the bell curve are not served. This content was never designed to be modular, nor serve anyone other than the “average” student.

Thus, few traditional publishers are ready for the leap to personalization.  First, the content was never designed to be modular and stand-alone. Second, most of their content is created for print delivery. Moving to a digital, mobile-ready format is in itself a huge hurdle.

eLearning content publishers also face challenges of retrofitting their content to support personalization. Much of their existing content was developed in Flash, which doesn’t run on Apple iOS tablets and smartphones. Also, the eLearning content tends to be monolithic and difficult to chunk into modular, assignable units.

 Personalized learning is also creating challenges for the established learning technology providers. The traditional LMS is ill-suited for personalization.

“Traditional” eLearning courses support a one-size-fits-all approach, where all students follow the same path, and mastery of the knowledge is based on completion and score of the course. In contrast, in a personalized learning environment, each learner can have a different curricular path and success is measured by mastery of discreet learning objectives. The path to mastery can be different for every learner.  Legacy platforms are simply unable to support an individualized learning program.

A Modular, Mobile Approach is the Key to New Learning Modalities

For far too long, there has been stagnation in the K12 market. However, personalization and related educational reforms are propelling rapid innovation in the craft of teaching and how students learn. It is forcing the hand of content providers to re-architect their content for personalization, and is forcing technology providers to re-imagine learning delivery and moving away from courses to flexible paths to knowledge mastery. The list of market leaders in a few years may look very different than what we see today.

In contrast to the traditional publishers, those providers who are-architecting their content to make it digital, granular, and specialized for specific learning populations have an unprecedented opportunity to capture market share away from the monopolistic grip of the major publishers.

A new breed of Personalized Learning Environments (PLE) is coming to market that designed from the ground up for personalized learning. These platforms use assessments and analytics to help measure gaps, and provide teachers the tools to manage individual learning plans and offer students methods of self-directed discovery.

Personalization is driving adoption of new teaching and learning methodologies, new ways of developing content, and new technologies to deliver learning.

As these new ways take root, our notions of how we create and deliver learning will also evolve. After 50 years of stagnation, finally, we are seeing some real change and hopefully see some real results as our student’s have the education and skills they need in the new economy.

Authored by Jeff Katzman, Founder and CLO at Xyleme, Inc.
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